Dealing With a Partner Who Has a Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment Style

Updated on June 18, 2019
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I like to write about personal development, relationships, and spirituality.

Are You Struggling to Understand What Went Wrong?

A small proportion of the population has what is commonly referred to by psychologists as a dismissive-avoidant attachment style. Due to the experiences of their childhood, they tend to see relationships with others as painful and troubling, causing them to become highly self-reliant and dismissive of the need for human intimacy. Being with someone who has these characteristics can be frustrating and painful, particularly if you are the kind of person who is looking for a lot of affection and closeness in a relationship. A person with a dismissive-avoidant attachment style is unlikely to change, and if they do it will be through their own hard work and self-inquiry. It will definitely not be through your efforts! If you intend to stay happily in a relationship with such a person the best thing you can do is accept them as they are and learn to live harmoniously together.

Learning Through Relationship

Relationships have the potential to teach you many valuable lessons and provide the challenges that are so important for our growth as human beings. Being with someone who has a dismissive avoidant attachment style can push you to explore your own need for attachment and what it is you are looking for when you enter and participate in intimate relationships. One of the things that can emerge as you explore this territory is an inability to love yourself due to a deep-seated belief in your own lack of worth. You therefore look to your partner to give you the reassurance you need to feel good about yourself. In such a case, being with someone who is dismissive avoidant can be extremely difficult, however with conscious intent it can also be used as a tool for self-growth.

Learning to meet your own emotional needs can be a challenging process, made almost impossible if your lover continuously bows to your emotional neediness and provides the support, or crutch, you are looking for. This can be especially problematic if their own emotional well-being is tied to the need to be needed, leading to the classic co-dependent dynamic where each person props up the other emotionally. This dynamic is rarely sustainable and most often destructive. In contrast, a dismissive avoidant is unlikely to provide you with such a crutch. Instead they will tell you in no uncertain terms, either directly or through emotional withdrawal, that you have to meet these needs for yourself.

Taking Responsibility for Yourself

Meeting your own emotional needs means taking responsibility for yourself. You do this through:

  • Becoming more self-aware and emotionally resilient either through counseling, journaling, meditation or other means of self-inquiry.
  • Learning to self-sooth and nurture yourself when you're feeling emotionally imbalanced. This may take many forms, from a quiet walk on the beach to reading an inspirational book.
  • Seeking emotional support through a diverse social network based on a healthy model of inter-dependence rather than demanding that your partner meets all your needs

Knowing When It's Time to Let Go and Move On

I am a firm believer in living at your edge while not pushing yourself over the edge! Being with a dismissive avoidant can help you become more emotionally mature, resilient and self-nurturing. But if you are not at a point where you can observe these dynamics and work with them it can be isolating and detrimental to your emotional and psychological wellbeing. Instead of becoming stronger and growing through the relationship you find yourself becoming more needy and anxious. A typical pursuer-distancer dynamic happens when your increasing demands for intimacy cause your partner to back off from you and becoming more and more emotionally unavailable.

This kind of dynamic can be particularly problematic when a dismissive avoidant is paired with someone who has an insecure-anxious attachment style, a combination that is all too common. People with an anxious or preoccupied attachment style feel very insecure when they are not given the reassurance they need to feel ok. They worry a lot about whether their partner loves them and require direct displays of affection and intimacy in order to remain emotionally stable. As you can imagine these two individuals go together like fire and water, and yet somehow they are strangely attracted. Perhaps this is because they have so much to learn from each other.

Acknowledging When You Are Not Coping

If your relationship with your dismissive avoidant partner has reached a stalemate and you are not coping you will notice a number of telltale signs:

  • You are using more and more manipulative behaviours in order to get your partner to react, or to give you the reassurance that you need.
  • You are obsessing about your partner, spending way too much time thinking about them and very little time attending to your own emotional well-being.
  • You feel a constant nagging need to change your partner or make them behave differently and you spend way too much time thinking about how you might make them do this.
  • Your level of anxiety is through the roof and yet you cannot seem to communicate this with your partner without the conversation turning nasty and blaming.
  • Your partner is becoming more and more emotionally distant, despite your repeated attempts to bring a greater sense of intimacy to the relationship.

Reaching Out for Help

If the relationship has become toxic counseling may be called for, or you may have to acknowledge that you need to spend time on your own before you are ready for this level of emotional challenge. This does not mean that you stop loving your partner, or that you blame them for the 'relationship not working out'. Your partner has their own lessons to learn from relationship but that is their problem. Your task is to look to your own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs and ask 'does this relationship serve me?' In the end, the success of failure or a relationship is not about how long it lasts but how two people grow as a result.

Would You Stay with Someone Who Is Dismissive Avoidant?

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Do You Have Any Advice for Others Who May Be Struggling with This?

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    • profile image

      3 weeks ago

      I think I’m a combo of the two. I’m very dismissive at the beginning until I can trust but I need reassurance to proceed. Otherwise I just can’t seem to get emotionally connected. It’s not from childhood. I have a very loving family. I think it’s more so from bad relationships and being very guarded. When I’m in I am the most loving person ever

    • profile image

      Sean 

      3 weeks ago

      As a dismissive avoidant I'd like to recommend to those who is with one, get out, move on, run for the hills. He is not going to change, at least not significantly enough to feel like you're in the normal zone. I'd love to change, but even now, as I've figured out some of who I am and why am this way, I know how deep it runs. Change would be superficial, play acting. I'd rather her leave me and be happy. I'm too chicken shit to end it, because as much as I can be alone and feel alone all the time, I don't actually want to be alone. And I don't want to wreck our kid. You deserve better.

    • profile image

      4 weeks ago

      I think I am dismissive-avoidant, and I'm trying really hard to change this in myself before I enter a romantic relation because I don't want to hurt someone... it's difficult, when you first learn in your childhood to be self-reliant and independent because your parents will not be there for you, and to then find that stunting your adult growth. It hurts my feelings to read all the hate here for people like me, though of course I understand.

    • profile image

      Taylor 

      5 weeks ago

      I just got out of a year long relationship w a dismissive avoidant. Run for the hills. Heartless, manipulative, no guilt or remorse. A soulless human being. Never again.

    • profile image

      Willow Shade 

      4 months ago

      I’m in love with someone that has these tendencies, but tries very hard to change. He seems to have no clue how to have intimate conversations, but excels at small talk and joking. I tend to be anxious, but am using this as an opportunity to explore my own reasons for what I do. All I can say, is this is the most challenging relationship I’ve ever been in. I try to ask myself periodically if I get more good than bad from it. I try to tell myself that I’m not overly needy, and that I just need to have an emotional connection to my partner. All people have emotions and are in relationships to give and receive love. I just hope that other people in these types of relationships know that it’s ok to want your emotional needs met. It’s normal. It’s what humans need and deserve. Don’t give up too much of your life waiting to feel loved and significant.

    • profile image

      Ann 

      5 months ago

      My partner would avoid questions that had to do with sharing feelings. He would explode and yell when I talked about my feelings. If the argument was too much for him, he would hang up on the phone with me and not answer. He would say mean things to me during arguments. Afterwards he told me that everyone says mean things when people argue, there is no such thing as healthy arguments. He went from loving to hateful quickly. We ended moving in together, but his behavior worsened when we would argue. I would cry, tell him I don't feel loved and he would dismiss it and say it's my problem. He would constantly leave the house and ignore texts/calls if we were arguing. We broke up, but he came back and asked to do couples therapy. But when I talked about feelings and what happened, he asked for space and to be separated. I gave it to him. Then the day before the scheduled couples therapy session he called to ask if he could come. But when he felt like the emotions were too much and he didn't have "independence", he said I had the problem. It was a constant up and down, but finally I had the courage to let him go.

    • profile image

      Leah 

      5 months ago

      I am in a 1 year relationship with an avoidant and I can honestly say the pain of never hearing 'I love you' is soul destroying even the last 2 months the physical side has stopped ,I feel utterly worthless ,he knows he is one but seems to use it as a reason for anything he wont do ,he has never told anyone he loves them ,we are getting on in years and I am wondering why he stays with me if he doesnt love me as I feel he doesnt , he wont move in or even think of any kind of commitment, I feel really safe and secure with him and can be myself and we have a lot of interests the same , we dont go out but keep to our secure bubbles and he only stays once a week although we see each other daily, I am at the point of wondering how much hurt and pain I can take ,do I leave someone who is great in all other aspects but I need to feel loved back and Im not a needy person, I can relate to everyone here ,its so sad and as far as I have read they never change .

    • profile image

      John 

      5 months ago

      I was with this personality type for over two years and it was total hell mostly because I never knew this condition existed and I had to learn while we were together. It was the most unsatisfying and emotionally gut-wrenching relationship I've ever been involved with. Two years have passed and I feel like my spirit has been broken. The sad things is that when together, it was perfection. You couldn't find two people who matched well together. People would look at us in awe just watching us together. We looked like newlyweds, but she would only let me see her once a week. It sucked. Fortunately, I learned what this condition was/is while we dated, but by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late to change anything...the relationship was over. I have never loved a woman as I did her.

    • profile image

      mariel77 

      7 months ago

      I have been having a very difficulty time with my husband. Married 23 years (2 high school kids). He seems to be oblivious to the fact that he many times ignores me; walks off without me, at times has his back turned towards me during conversations when out with others; i.e. at dinner. If we are in a group conversation, I many times do not feel included by him as he has very little eye contact or physical gestures with/towards me. Many times he does not even notice that I am standing next to him. Emotional intimacy is minimal to nonexistent. I have tried to bring this up and he seems totally unaware and annoyed when I mention the above to him. He was like this before we were married but he was/is a good person; generous, hardworking, thoughtful at times. I've recently started taking more of a stand. For instance he does not want to participate in an activity that is very important to me, after numerous discussions of the importance to me. But, he will want me to attend/do things with him that he is interested in. So I have started saying no. If there are any issues with the kids that need to be addressed/resolved, he will not engage and participate long enough to find a solution. Sometimes his answer is that he will talk to them. He seems annoyed that we actually have to discuss things, lol. I was told after a while of being in a sexless marriage that I should just let it happen (has not happened in several years) and that I should talk to him like a normal person when talking about issues (mind you I am not overly dramatic or yelling). He is also highly explosive (verbal not physical). His reaction is disproportionate to the situation at hand. This has recently gotten somewhat better as I've told him I will no longer tolerate this. In addition, I am being told that I never seem to take any ownership and that it basically it takes 2. I'm sorry, but I see most of this as him. I recently came across dismissive avoidant attachment issues and think he has some of this. He grew up with a very bad alcoholic father, but will not talk about any of his experiences. Hi siblings were much older than him, so he was basically like an only child (his words). We had some therapy earlier on in our marriage and he is refusing to go back.

    • profile image

      DnshRadhika 

      9 months ago

      Paul, I happened to be in the same relation and I found that she destroyed two years of my life. She was emotionally so unavailable for me, she sucked all energy all happiness out of me. I still miss her and trying to get out of this miserable feeling. I loved Radhika and now I am so sorry to myself that I am not able to stop loving her

    • profile image

      Annelisse 

      14 months ago

      I just found out the problem with my significant other. He has dismissive avoidant attachment. Im the anxious type. That being said, I'm a nurse and always try to step out of my own plate to help myself and in this case our relationship. I had wondered for a while what was wrong exactly. I knew it was something but couldn't pin point. I felt ugly for a while. He is a great guy...at least until now. Responsible and a Good father. Only thing is I feel like I'm living with a room mate without sex lol.

      Well see how long I can emotionally punish myself for. Hopefully forever. I don't think I want to start over. I'm going to try to hold back and give him whatever freedom he needs. No more loving with expectations to get any affection. I will not play the ignore game because it doesn't work but will definitely hold myself a lot from trying to make him give me affection.

    • profile image

      kapco411 

      16 months ago

      Living with an intimacy avoider can be a devastating experience. Avodiers and people pleasers or love addicts are drawn to each other like a moth to a flame. Often times it is difficult to break these recurring patterns they have. Intimacy avoiders aften swoop in like a night in shining armor or a caregiver role acting like the best thing since sliced bread. The love addict is taking back by this behavior and falls head of heels for this person. Later the avoider once things get a little to close will start to detach from the addict causing a withdrawal in the love addict. The people leaser or love addict will now begin to live out their childhood hurts of never feeling good enough and try unsuccessfully to save the relationship. When the addict has had enough they detach which now sends the Avoider into a tail spin and they come back with all the charm and grace to get the person back they have lost. This toxic and deadly dance will continue until either they both break free of each other or they both learn about why it is that they do what they do. For the addict or pleasers this is an easier road to travel. For the avoiders they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into therapy as they feel there is nothing wrong and its all the addict fault,

      Neither party is a fault they both are just a different kind of flawed or broken. In reality they are meant to be together but they must both realize and work towards that goal. One person changing will usually cause the other to tailspin again. Both have a fear of abandonment and both feel not good enough. If neither acknowledges their childhood hurts chances are good they will not only have terrible relationships but they will pass these same hurts unto their own children. Lots of useful information on intimacy avoiders and love styles online and in a book called why we love which actually has recovery and growth goals to break the cycle and heal your marriage.

    • profile image

      JJ McGillicuddy 

      16 months ago

      Far better to avoid these people altogether. Even if you're a secure, these people, after they're done with the duplicitous lovebombing honeymoon phase, are just so cold and aloof that it makes any relationship with them boring at best, and don't even get me started on the worst.

    • profile image

      Melinda 

      17 months ago

      Wish I had learned about avoidant attachment years ago... but here I am with a spouse who basically emotionally and physically divorced me. He's a great provider and dotes on our child, even helps out with the housework... just nothing personal. I can meet my own needs but not without some resentment at having no potential for a more emotionally and physically intimate relationship. Moreover, I worry about the effect this will have on our child's relationship. Should I stay or go?

    • profile image

      Frances 

      17 months ago

      Lisa, I hear you! its very lonely, painful and to top it off nothing is ever resolved. It feels like one big perpetual argument. I cant bare the emptiness and I can never rely on my husband to discuss through our issues. He has never asked me how my day has been or even said anything reassuring about my intelligence or my appearance. When he pays attention to others I feel jealous and insecure, as they receive the best of him. I love to talk and explore interests like philosophy. Its like the avoidant goes through life without analysis or reflection. I don't even think they have the capacity for positive feelings at all, if they do its momentary and inconsistent. It seems to be a lack of compassion or any degree of empathy. Still waters run deep, I must say. Like the article states, as I have an anxious attachment style to learn to grow through to independence. The only way out is through. Its too profound of a responsibility to put on to someone else to boost my own self worth , I know this but struggle as I am a very affectionate person and crave intimacy. Though sometimes its the irritation that creates the pearl in the oyster.

    • profile image

      Lisa 

      18 months ago

      This article was very helpful! My husband is most definitely dismissive avoidant. I am someone who needs a lot of assurance and get so frustrated when he is unable to provide affection. My husband comes from a severely dysfunctional family where he was never allowed to express himself. I even suspect abuse from his mother but he won’t talk about it. So, when you marry someone you are there to love and support them. We all have our limits to change. My husband is someone who will always refuse change. He is mostly afraid of having deep feelings. Even though it is very lonely to not get the love and affection I crave from him, I have to learn to self soothe and go for counseling. I love to talk things out and my husband can’t handle these things. When our kids are older and if I can support myself, who knows. It makes me so sad though.

    • profile image

      Paul 

      2 years ago

      Interesting article.

      I am starting to believe I'm in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant, while also recognising that I myself can behave in avoidant ways - although in relation to her I am acting and feeling anxious (trying not to act anxious but feeling it a lot).

      This woman formed a relationship with me as a way of escaping from a former relationship with a man who was emotionally unavailable - she said she wanted a partner who was more spontaneous and available.

      I suspect however that the reason she subconsciously was with him in the first place was because his avoidance up gave her space.

      Now she has left him, moved to a remote community with limited phone access and accessible only by boat, so she now has eternal freedom and is mostly uncontactable, does not respond to most text messages or phone calls - perhaps one in twenty she might respond to - initially she blamed the lack of contact on her ex being very controlling of her phone use, but then she moved so blamed it on poor phone signal - I bought her a better phone, but still she is unavailable mostly.

      I left the relationship three times before because I imagined lots of stuff - other men, alcohol or drug use - but she is so vague and evasive in most communication that my fears were mostly self-created (probably), however now we are trying again - I am trying to stay busy, meet my own needs emotionally however I've asked for more frequent communication, such as one or two text messages or phone calls a day, but it appears even this is too much.

      She never actually says it is too much, she simply doesn't ever call or text.

      Then maybe once every two days I happen to call at a convenient time and she answers and we have a lovely chat for maybe an hour - then after the call I know that it will be at least two days before I get to speak with her again, and even then only if I call maybe five or six times - she never calls me.

      In a way I'm glad to have read all this stuff - at least I now can understand what is happening - previously I just assumed she was deliberately leading me on while also cultivating other romances - she might be doing this but I doubt it - even if she is I think her behaviour is mostly unconscious and she is probably just unable to act differently - wow! Writing all this makes me feel a bit crazy for being so prepared to keep trying with her.

      It seems obvious that our relationship is unlikely to work - I do know she loves me and she says she loves to get my text messages and phone calls even though she doesn't reciprocate (if I express my need for reciprocation she tries for a few days but it must be very hard for her so she drifts back into her avoidant behaviour very quickly), so I'm holding onto a faint hope that she might be prepared to go to a relationship counsellor before we redevelop our closeness too much - I've specified no sex until we do more work - anyway the main thing is that being an alcoholic, I'm not using alcohol or other addictions to cope with my feelings around this stuff - probably why it feels do raw. I'm determined to stay focused on my own self care and happiness and to sit with my feelings when they come up - that way, even if this relationship fails, which is likely, I'll be more resilient and self aware for someone in the future.

    • profile image

      RengDeng 

      2 years ago

      @Piperson

      The partners we choose and the things that attract us can say alot about ourselves.

      When we pair up with someone there is a very stong interplay of signals that we unconsciously send and pick up on. Signals that cannot be faked, as they are a product of our conscious but also our unconscious emotions.

      You end up with these women because you probably can 'sense' their vulnurability under a initial hard shell. As they are deeply insecure themselves (most of the time without knowing). You confuse the emotions they awake in you as emotions of 'love', because this is what you have learned during your childhood.

      We tend to match up with people of the same security levels (secure-secure, insecure-insecure), the reason why you are attracted to these women is because you probably have some emotional issues and insecurities yourself, which might be regarded to Intimacy (commitment and/or abandonment issues), you might dismiss the idea now, because you think you have been longing for intimacy with these women all the time. But for people with intimacy issues, relationships with other people with intimacy problems are relatively safe, as they are not open for building a real intimate connection too.

      Its almost impossible to find the cause of your attraction towards this type of women yourself, the experience of someone who is able look inside is needed, I strongly suggest you give a shot at counseling, these people have seen cases of you and me (yes I said that) dozens of times, and know where to look.

      Your childhood spends a significant role in this story, there is an elevated likelyhood that you have not been able to form a proper emotional connection with one (or both) of your parents, as thats often the cause of this type of issue. As a small child you would long for this never fully finalized connection, and you learned that the emotional distance you experienced in your childhood was love, and now you are attracted to women who represent this distance, as it triggers certain emotions in you.

      In my case the cause was my mother who was anxious and had depressive symptoms after my birth, this reduced her ability to form a good emotional connection with me, which led me to being dissmissive-avoidant in my relationship with them and others around me, I don't consciously experience the intimacy fears, but I do recognize the behavior patterns. Romantically i'm having an attraction to emotionally unavailable women, and have a desire to get emotionally intimate with them, which is impossible due to both of our issues.

      Don't try to look to deep inside yourself for the cause, as you do not have the knowledge and the lens through which you see yourself micht be a little distorted. Do the looking inside together with a counselor, he or she can guide you to the places you need to go, this will answer all of your questions and help you to get attracted to healthy people because you get alighned with your emotions, I cannot state how helpfull it is to reach out to someone who knows whats going on inside.

      I'm not an expert on the matter, but I somewhat know what i'm talking about, youre following the same path that I have been traveling.

      You looking for answers about yourself shows me you're on the right track, but don't stop when the emotions of your recent break-up have subsided, push through, as you will have to sooner or later to become the person you want to be and have the relationships that you really want and make you happy.

      You're free to hit me up if you want to get in contact, just post your email (I recomend an anonymous one) and i'll send you a message.

      Good luck.

    • profile image

      Piperson 

      2 years ago

      I find myself irresistibly drawn to avoidant people. I would love to have a healthy, nurturing relationship but I find most women uninteresting. For some reason i find avoidant women exciting to the point where i become obsessed with them, and can't stop thinking about them. When this happens, they become the focal point of my life and all the joy i have for life gets sucked out of it.

      Why is it that i am so drawn to unhealthy women?

      What can i do to get the healthy relationships with women that i crave?

    • profile image

      Elaine Wright 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for the insight. Iam on the edge of ending my marriage to a dismissive partner. I am struggling with resentment towards him. He can play the loving role for a period of time and when confronted with issues involving him I get negative responses or no response. He can be distant towards his own children and then over jolly when he feels like it. Its frustrating and confusing as we have only been married nearly 5 years after splitting for 9 years due to his drinking. Prior to that we had dated for 18 years. Now he has been alcohol free for 5 years and now a qualified counsellor about to complete level 5 in CBT. Plus he is a baptised christian. I feel cheated and feel I have let our children down. I gave him another chance because I blamed the drink for his dismissive behaviour but now I realise that this is his personality. I only wish I had waited a little longer as I believe his personality would have revealed itself and I could saved myself and our children the pain of being back in this situation again. As a christian myself I have faith that God will help me in making the right decision. I hope this helps someone else out there.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing an important but oft overlooked human condition. Especially in today's world.

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